Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our People, Our Future

In this brief pre-Inauguration message, President Obama previews the goals and themes of his second term.  Meanwhile people are gathering in Washington for Inaugural weekend.  (Hi Mike!  Send me some exclusive photos!)  In one crowd by their booth on Saturday, CNN found people from all over the country and beyond our shores.  I have a feeling that, like the election, the number of people participating will turn out to be misunderestimated.

As he says in the video, the slogan for the Inaugural is "Our People, Our Future." President Obama is sworn in for his second term officially on Sunday (as per the Constitution, January 20) though the public ceremony and Inaugural Address are Monday, which also happens to be Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday holiday.   With an approval rating ranging from 51% to 54% depending on the poll, perhaps his best pre-Inaugural gift is knowing that his refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling has won the day, and the GOPer House leadership has announced they'll pass it. 

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is reconstituting as Organizing for Action, an advocacy group with three principal issues on the immediate agenda: reduce gun violence, climate change and immigration reform.  I'm in.

And according to Andy Borowitz,  Fox News will be shutting down for scheduled maintenance on Inauguration Day.   Roger Ailes explained the timing of the shutdown, which will be the first in the history of the network: “We wanted to pick a time when we were positive nothing would be happening that our viewers would want to see.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Rights

President Obama's announcement of proposals for legislation and executive orders on guns and related health matters was an historic moment in an historic presidency.  His speech was the most impressive mix of common sense, reasoned argument, political sense and righteous emotion that I think I've ever heard.

A number of key moments have been shown and quoted.  But I want to highlight a section that hasn't gotten a lot of attention, in which he talks about rights other than the right to own guns:

"This is the land of the free, and it always will be. As Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us. But we've also long recognized, as our Founders recognized, that with rights come responsibilities. Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same. We don’t live in isolation. We live in a society, a government of, and by, and for the people. We are responsible for each other.

The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who’ve never imagined that they’d lose a loved one to a bullet -- those rights are at stake. We’re responsible."

This is what I think of when I think of rights.  The right to have a cup of coffee in a restaurant without worrying that somebody with one too many and a gun is going to take offense at how I raise my eyebrow when I read the paper.  The right to sit at my kitchen table without being blown away by a bullet fired several blocks away or a half mile away at somebody else, or at nobody at all.  The right to go to a sporting event without being shot by a fan for the other side.  Not to mention the rights of  family members to go about their lives, to go to school, to their workplace, to public buildings without being mowed down by a gun made for massacre. 

All of these are more specific instances of the most fundamental right in a civilized society: the right to live.  The right of children to grow up.  Place these next to the right for any individuals who can operate a credit card to buy whatever guns they want whenever they want them. Not a close comparison. 

These very small restrictions being proposed and attacked with ferociously mendacious rhetoric are the least a responsible society can do.  Another measure of how far we've fallen is the end of restrictions in so many states and in so many places on where people can legally carry loaded guns, concealed loaded guns.  Such restrictions have been traditional since the nineteenth century.  And now when guns are more lethal than ever, and some people are apparently more homicidal than ever, we want fewer restrictions on guns than on driving a car or transporting live plants across state borders. 

It's probably true that gun legislation will require the support of gun owners, and the wearying rhetoric of supporting the rights of people to own all the guns they want as long as they aren't capable of slaughtering 20 children in seconds.  But hello?  There are some of us out here--in fact quite a lot of us out here--who don't want guns anywhere near us.  Although it's true that a gun owner is just as likely to be killed by one of these high powered guns with especially lethal bullets, when he or she is sitting at their kitchen table.

For another point of view by another non-owner of guns, here's Josh Marshall at TPM.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Climate Assessment? Asks the Pack

Allow me to point out how ignored the previous story has been in the media as well as by politicians.  The draft report of the National Climate Assessment, which sets forth the parameters of the future of the United States as well as the world, was a half day story, at best.  It never made it on any cable news show that I saw, it just has not entered the conversation.

It broke at a bad time, certainly: late Friday afternoon is the worst.  But this is Tuesday night, and it's as if it never happened.

One reference I did see was that it didn't say anything new.  But of course it did, and I outlined many of those elements in my post.  It clarified as never before the two separate challenges of the climate crisis--dealing with the effects and dealing with the causes, simultaneously.  It quantified the crisis in terms of expected temperatures and time frames.  It rejected the notion that some parts of the country or some parts of the world would not feel effects.  And above all, it said outright that the crisis was already happening.  It said all this with the highest authority so far.

And it's true that there were other important news events and stories.  But there always are, and they are usually the kinds of events and stories that everybody is familiar with.  Yes, the debt ceiling, gun violence, wars, etc. should all be prominently covered.  But there is still room for more.  And that room is typically crowded out by non-stories that the media does for no better reason than...the rest of the media is doing it.

The prime example in this time frame--since the Climate Assessment was made public--is the "controversy" over whether the second term Obama administration is "diverse" enough.  How this story developed reminded me of a book I had already recalled when Jonathan Bernstein at his blog asked  for titles of great books on politics and government.  The book I named--and the book I thought of this weekend--was The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse.

Tim Crouse was the other guy that Rolling Stone sent to cover the 1972 presidential campaign, principally the McGovern campaign.  Their prime guy was Hunter S. Thompson, but Thompson was so, well, quixotic that they wanted to have a, let us say sober assessment available as well, and that was Crouse.

But he used his time on the press bus to study the press and so he came up with The Boys on the Bus.  It's a lively book, with portraits of media personalities of the time.  I was briefly on that bus in 1972, after I'd read one of his Rolling Stone stories and chatted with Tim himself--I recall running into him in Harvard Yard at some point later on--and so I could see those folks through his eyes as well as mine.  (And you couldn't believe how beautiful Connie Chung was in 1972. Television never did her justice.)

But the book also had a premise: pack journalism.  Crouse described how everybody watched what the wire service reporters and the New York Times made the lead story, and that became everybody's lead story of the day.  They were the lead wolves and the pack followed.

Maybe the reason that this book is still in print 40 years later is that the phenomenon is not an historical oddity.  The media has changed immensely since then, but the basic practice of pack journalism has only gotten worse.

  Now maybe the pack follows the hot YouTube video that everybody is tweeting about, or what outrage starts on the Drudge Report or whatever.  But often enough, it's exactly the same--the New York Times has a lead story in the morning (which these days means posted in the middle of the night) and everybody follows.

That's exactly what happened with the Obama administration diversity story.  Hours after it appeared in the New York Times it was a prime topic on every cable news show I saw (including simultaneous blather about it on CNN and MSNBC), as well as every political site and blog.  And then well into the weekend.  And then a question at the Obama news conference on Monday.  While there were no questions on the Climate Assessment.

Now diversity may be an issue, but what else accounts for everybody discovering it on the same day?  Pack journalism and nothing else.  As it turns out, there isn't really very much substantive to say on the matter since, as the President pointed out, he's hardly even started appointing people to his cabinet and White House staff.  But of course, debunking the story itself became a story, as in this one titled "The First Pointless Controversy of Obama's 2nd Term."

So let's review: chunks of finite print space, air time and attention span were devoted to speculation on a matter of some importance that was so incomplete that it clearly could not be proven either way, instead of a matter of transcendent importance that was in the act of being proven to be very highly consequential now and into the foreseeable and unimaginable future.

Pack journalism is not the only reason.  But it is one that was clearly operating this time.